As songwriters and performers, Ashford & Simpson have long ranked among the most acclaimed and admired creative couples in contemporary music.
Their award-winning collaborations began, incredibly, over four decades ago, in 1964 to be exact. That year they recorded an original song, “I’ll Find You,” as “Valerie & Nick,” having met earlier that year in New York at the White Rock Baptist Church.
Nickolas Ashford had just moved to New York from Detroit in pursuit of a theater career, having completed a course in modern dance at the University of Michigan. Homeless upon arrival, he happened upon Bronx native Valerie Simpson, who had studied piano since the age of five and was playing and singing with the Harlem church’s legendary choir.
Nick joined the choir and the two began writing songs, selling their first batch, which included “I’ll Find You,” for $75. They were soon signed to the legendary Scepter Records as staff songwriters, breaking through in 1966 when Ray Charles landed a major hit with their composition “Let’s Go Get Stoned.” This led to their signing with Motown Records, where they penned the classic Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell hits “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Your Precious Love, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” “You’re All I Need to Get By” and “Good Lovin’ Ain’t Easy to Come By.” They also wrote hits for other Motown greats, most notably Diana Ross, who launched her solo career with a hit remake of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” that was also produced by Ashford & Simpson, as were such later A&S-written hits as “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and “The Boss.”
But the songwriting/producing duo had its own recording/performing aspirations as well. While Valerie had scored with a pair of well-received solo albums for Motown in the early 1970s, it was with Warner Bros. Records that the by now married Ashford & Simpson fully realized their artistic vision. From 1973 to 1981 they released nine albums, yielding such unforgettable hits as “Send It,” “Don’t Cost You Nothin’,” “It Seems to Hang On,” “Love Don’t Make it Right,” “Is It Still Good to Ya” and “Found a Cure.” The hitmaking continued after a move to Capitol Records in 1982, with “Street Corner,” “Highrise,” “I’ll Be There for You,” and of course, “Solid,” which topped the r&b chart in 1984 and crossed over to No. 12 on the pop singles chart.
All the while they continued writing and producing for other artists, including Ben E. King, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Chaka Khan (they wrote her hit “I’m Every Woman”) and Quincy Jones (they co-wrote and performed on his hit “Stuff Like That”). Their concert appearances, meanwhile, were exhilarating: Choreographed by Tony Award-winning George Faison, the shows incorporated stunning costumes and sets that made Ashford & Simpson a live attraction worthy of the best venues in the country. In fact, they were the only r&b act to perform at the historic Live Aid event in 1985, where they brought out Teddy Pendergrass to join in on “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” in his first performance following his tragic car accident, and later starred in concerts celebrating Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday and President Clinton’s first inauguration.
In 1996, “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” was used as the theme for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Also that year Nick and Val formed their own label, Hopsack & Silk, and released “Been Found,” an acclaimed music/poetry album collaboration with their friend Maya Angelou. That same year the American Society of Composers And Publishers (ASCAP) presented them with its highest honor, the Founder's Award, and in 1999 they received the Pioneer Award from the prestigious Rhythm & Blues Foundation. In 2002 they joined the pantheon of popular music songwriters when they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Career laurels aside, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson are currently hotter than ever. A two-week stint at New York’s elegant Feinstein’s at the Regency in 2006 was so successful that they were brought back for three weeks in 2007, garnering some of the best notices of their career. “Singles, doubles, gays, straights, blacks, whites, all mixed together and singing along,” concluded the New York Times’ Stephen Holden in his rave review, “Ashford and Simpson turn diversity into unanimity.”
The Feinstein’s stand was followed by international performances, including concerts in London and Amsterdam that drew especially ecstatic audiences. Nick and Valerie then returned to work on a musical adaptation of E. Lynn Harris’s novel “Invisible Life,” the uplifting title theme for which was singled out by Holden as “an anthem celebrating human diversity.” They also commenced editing film of the Feinstein’s shows for DVD release, hopefully to coincide with the February release of “Hits, Remixes & Rarities”—a two-disc set of choice material from the Warner Bros. years.
But Nick and Val, who formerly hosted a long-running radio show on New York’s KISS-FM, are already visible on the small screen as hosts of Time Life’s new “Uptown Saturday Night” classic r&b dance music TV promotion. And their music remains continuously in play: Ryan Shaw’s Grammy-nominated cover of “I am Your Man” in the Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance category returns an Ashford & Simpson Motown era composition (originally recorded by the likes of the Four Tops and Bobby Taylor) to the forefront—a feat that has been accomplished regularly since. Indeed, hardly a year goes by without some notable artist reviving an Ashford & Simpson classic, as Whitney Houston did in 1993 with “I’m Every Woman,” as Method Man and Mary J. Blige did in 1995 with their Grammy-winning medley of “I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need To Get By,” as 50 Cent did when he sampled Valerie’s sol single “Silly Wasn’t I” on his “Best Friend,” or most recently, as Amy Winehouse did on “Tears Dry On Their Own,” which built on the music from “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
Shaw, incidentally, is a regular at the Sugar Bar, the popular Manhattan restaurant operated by Nick and Val that is home of the renowned Thursday Night Open Mic events, where anyone can perform a song with the stellar house band—“anyone” being the likes of Patti LaBelle, Stevie Wonder, Paul Shaffer, Michael McDonald, Jimmy Buffett, Queen Latifah, and anyone known and unknown who signs up to sing. John Rich of country music super duo Big & Rich not only performed their hit “Lost in This Moment” at Open Mic, but was so impressed with Sugar Bar regular J-Nyse that he flew him down to Nashville and signed him to his label.
But in addition to their artistic endeavors, Nick and Val are equally and continuously involved in community service. Ongoing activities in this regard include Val’s membership on the ASCAP Board of Directors and her role as a national spokesperson for the Speaking of Woman’s Health organization. For his part, Nick serves on the Board of Directors for George Faison’s Firehouse Theatre. Together they regularly perform at important charity events, such as Atlanta’s recent 24th Annual Mayor’s MASKED Ball (Mankind Assisting Students Kindle Educational Dreams) in support of the United Negro College Fund.
And of all the many honors and awards that have been earned and bestowed upon them, two stand out as special milestones. For Val, it’s her name on a street sign in the Bronx Walk of Fame, in commemoration of her achievements by her proud neighborhood. And for Nick, Val inscribed “Nick Ashford slept here” on the park bench in Bryant Park that he called home when he first came to New York, symbolizing the long journey they’ve traveled together since that fateful day at White Rock Baptist.
LEGENDARY SINGING & SONGWRITING DUO
ASHFORD & SIMPSON TO RELEASE THEIR FIRST EVER LIVE DVD & CD THAT BRINGS TOGETHER FOR THE FIRST TIME IN PERFORMANCE
ALL THE GREATEST HIT SONGS THEY HAVE EVER WRITTEN FOR THEMSELVES AND OTHER CELEBRATED ARTISTS
“ASHFORD & SIMPSON: THE REAL THING”
RELEASE DATE JANUARY 27
A comprehensive music collection on CD and DVD from the husband & wife team featuring their live performances of the classic hits they penned
NEW YORK, DECEMBER 2008 – Superstar singer songwriter powerhouse couple Ashford & Simpson
Ashford & Simpson:The Real Thing (2009, Sony Legacy)
Valerie Simpson Collection (2005, Universal)
The Very Best of Ashford & Simpson: 1973-1984 (2003, Rhino)
The Gospel According to Ashford & Simpson (1997, EMI)
Been Found (with Maya Angelou) (1996, Hopsack & Silk)
Love or Physical (1989, Capitol)
Solid Plus Seven (1987, Capitol)
Real Love (1986, Capitol)
Solid (1984, Capitol)
High-Rise (1983, Capitol)
Street Opera (1982, Capitol)
Performance (Recorded Live) (1981, Warner Bros.)
A Musical Affair (1980, Warner Bros.)
Stay Free (1979, Warner Bros.)
Is It Still Good to Ya (1978, Warner Bros.)
Send It (1977, Warner Bros.)
So, So Satisfied (1977, Warner Bros.)
Valerie Simpson Keep It Comin' CD a/k/a The Best of Valerie Simpson (1977, Motown)
Come as You Are (1976, Warner Bros.)
I Wanna Be Selfish (1974, Warner Bros.)
Gimme Something Real(1973, Warner Bros.)
Silly Wasn't I - Valerie Simpson (single)' (1972, Motown)
Valerie Simpson (1972, Motown)
Valerie Simpson Exposed LP (1971, Motown)
Can't It Wait Until Tomorrow - Valerie Simpson (single)' (1971,Motown)
Dead End Kids/Let's Go Get Stoned- Nick Ashford (single)' (1968, ABC)
When I Feel The Need/Young Emotions- Nick Ashford (1968,[Verve])
California Soul/Young Emotions- Nik Ashford (single)' (1968,[Verve])
I Don't Need No Doctor/Young Emotions - Nick Ashford (1966,Verve)
It Ain't Like That/You Don't Owe Me A Thing - (single) (Glover)
Don't You Feel Sorry/Somebody Lying On Love - (single) (Glover)
I'll Find You/Lonely Town - "Valerie & Nick" (single) (1964, Glover)